So, today I get to try something new. I wrote this post up a few days ago, and then Steven A.J. Orobona asked me if I would write a guest blogger post for his blog over at 7worldsofman.com. I was flattered, and so I agreed. We both agreed that we would both simultaneously post this today with a link back to the other’s blog.
Steven’s a good guy. I say that and I must admit that I have not yet met him in person, but we have corresponded and have a pretty good mutual friend, my artistic buddy James Climer (you know, the guy who made such wonderful covers and a terrific map for my books). Any way, Steven’s books have an intriguing premise (my first impression is “A Connecticut Yankee in King Alien’s Court”) and I encourage all of you to hop on over and check out his blog, after you read the rest of this post.
My family watches television, but most of it is not stuff that is newly broadcast (odd, I know – see my old blog post “TV Timeout” for more on that). We have boxes and boxes of DVDs from years past. The Andy Griffith Show, Little House on the Prairie, The Incredible Hulk, Battlestar Galactica, The A-Team, Columbo, Knight Rider, Superfriends, Duck Tales, Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears, Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers, Murder She Wrote, Matlock, Poirot, Pie in the Sky, The Pretender, Quantum Leap, Monk, and more are on our shelves. We watch seasons at a time and occasionally go through an entire series over the course of a few weeks once the kids are in bed.
While we were watching MacGyver the other evening, special guest villain Murdoc was on (yet again). Murdoc is, without a doubt, the least competent “greatest assassin in the world” in the history of entertainment. To make a long story short, for the umpteenth time, Murdoc fails to kill MacGyver. Sounds predictable all right, but this time his reason for failure is apparently because he is squeamish about a couple of civilian casualties. So, while he has frequently made comments about innocents just getting in the way and we have seen/heard of his misdeeds in many episodes, his plan was to pretend to be MacGyver to trick a mother and daughter into helping him capture MacGyver (who he called the ruthless assassin Murdoc). Not only that, but he was going to let them live after they had seen him and would have known he was the killer. Really? (did I mention that he had a gun and a rocket launcher at his disposal along with other weapons?)
As I thought about this, I realized that lots of serial writers use cheap tricks to bring in their favorite formulaic bad guy when they are short on ideas. That brings us to Mister Mxyzptlk. Mr. M (I don’t want to have to type/paste that name again in this post) was a recurring bad guy who plagued Superman and the Superfriends. Mr. M was a short guy from the 5th dimension with almost unlimited magical powers who would be forced to return home when tricked into saying his name backwards. Down through the years he appeared more and more, and the ways to trick him got crazier and crazier. It got so bad that DC comics “re-invented” the way he ended up being banished back to his home dimension.
In many ways, Murdoc reminds me of Mr. M. Ruthless assassin, capable of sneaking hidden weapons into the heart of his criminal organization’s secret headquarters to threaten the leadership, yet repeatedly unable to kill MacGyver. In the next episode we saw featuring Murdoc, he decided to kill MacGyver by strapping him down next to a rocket (that was being launched at some former banana republic by Murdoc and its former dictator). He leaves MacGyver alone, unsupervised, while the bad guys go arrange a firing squad for the other prisoner they wish to kill. (Maybe Murdoc just knows that after the pilot, MacGyver has a strange thing about the use of guns, but I may discuss that next Monday).
Needless to say, MacGyver escapes, destroys the deadly rocket, and frees the other prisoner. Murdoc (brilliant assassin) tries to ram MacGyver while MacGyver is standing on the edge of a cliff and Murdoc is driving a car at him at 50 miles an hour. Really? You would think an assassin would have the slightest understanding of the physics involved here. Some chump hick wannabe hitman in an episode between those two Murdoc episodes killed a victim by forcing them off a cliff.
My point in all of this is that writers get lazy. When they get lazy, they rely on an old trick or two that folks found entertaining once. When they keep going back to the same old trick, their writing gets cheesy, predictable, and ultimately boring. Murdoc and Mr. M were interesting challenges to their protagonists when they were first introduced. They even presented some additional opportunities for learning and growth on a subsequent visit or two. They ultimately became a crutch, which became a splintered reed upon which the writers leaned too heavily. As a writer, don’t be afraid to introduce an occasional Murdoc or Mxyzptlk. As a writer, be terrified of the day when you are pulling them back in regularly.